© 2024 WXPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
In addition to the local news, WXPR Public Radio also likes to find stories that are outside the general news cycle... Listen below to stories about history, people, culture, art, and the environment in the Northwoods that go a little deeper than a traditional news story allows us to do. Here are all of the series we include in this podcast: Curious North, We Live Up Here, A Northwoods Moment in History, Field Notes, and Wildlife Matters.These features are also available as a podcast by searching "WXPR Local Features" wherever you get your podcasts.

The Unlikely Pull of the Cranberry

Andrew Leahy

  My town of Eagle River has a population of 1398. If our town’s population were a year, we’d still be in the Middle Ages. So it’s that much more amazing that every year 40,000 people show up on the first weekend of October for Cranberry Fest. 40,000 people drive across the state and beyond to engage in a frenzy over a little red berry that hardly anyone eats raw.

“It becomes a pilgrimage," says Kim Emerson, Executive Director of the Eagle River Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. "Every year people come from all over. They meet each other from many different areas, so it’s a time to come together and enjoy everything.”

Unlike Eagle River’s other events named for produce—the Strawberry and Apple Festivals, for instance—Cranberry Fest is actually timed with the local harvest. The town goes crazy for cranberries. They show up in every restaurant, in sauces and salad dressings and every kind of baked goods.

Emerson says,  “Every year I go and I’m like, oh! It’s cranberry fritter time! And the cranberry brats. That’s the other thing you really like to get a hold of.”

There are other things that draw people to Cranberry Fest. The arts and crafts show boasts 325 booths. There’s also a fiber arts show, library book sale, and the Cranberry Bog Jog.  Mostly, the events are tied to cranberries. Like the World’s Largest Cranberry Cheesecake—over 100 feet long—the profits from which go to the Make a Wish Foundation. Visitors can also take bus tours of a cranberry marsh and winery, where they can sample Cranberry wine. Then they are given ample time in the gift shop.

“I think people are more entranced with the color than they are with the actual fruit," says Benjamin Riker is assistant manager of the James Lake Cranberry Marsh.  “It’s part of like the fall culture, you know, leaves change, pumpkins, chai tea latte whatevers, and cranberries.”

Admittedly—cranberries are cool. They’re one of the few indigenous fruits to North America. Cranberries float, which is why bogs are flooded for harvesting, and they bounce, which farmers use to help sort the good berries from the bad. Fruits that aren’t sold fresh can go into anything from juice to baby food to vitamins to face wash. If I forget about a pound of cranberries in my fridge, they’re still good a month later.

For those of us who live in Eagle River, Cranberry Fest is a clear dividing point for the year. After this weekend, the last of the warm-weather tourists and snowbirds head south. Resorts close, and many restaurants cut back their hours. It gets pretty quiet around here. We have a few weeks to bask in fall, by ourselves, before hunting and snowmobile season bring the next wave of visitors to the Northwoods. 

Up North Updates
* indicates required
Related Content